Today, March 22 is World Water Day, an annual United Nations (UN) observance day to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. This year’s theme is “Valuing Water.” Fortunately, many of us don’t think much about the value of water. We drink, wash, flush, and move on with our day. But start looking around and you’ll come across statistics that show 2.2 billion people around the world do not have access to safe water. Astonishingly, about two million of these global citizens reside in our own country.
Despite the US having some of the safest domestic water in the world, water-related diseases persist and affect our rural community members. There are cases of hookworm. There is liver and kidney damage from excessive arsenic, uranic, and mercury in drinking water. If you have 5 minutes, listen to some stories in rural Kern County, California here. It’s 2021 and these water-related diseases should be part of history and not current news.
Rural communities are not the only ones affected. Water systems serving approximately 44 million Americans have Safe Drinking Water Act violations. Communities of color are more likely to be affected. There is documented lead poisoning, which leads to developmental delays in children. It’s not hard to find news articles on underserved communities, just do a search on Jackson, Mississippi, or Flint, Michigan.
Left: water samples from a Flint, Michigan home, January 2015; Flintwaterstudy.org; from Time. Upper right: tap water in a Flint, Michigan hospital in October 2015; photo Joyce Zhu, Flintwaterstudy.org; from Michigan Radio. Lower right: corroded tap water pipe in Jackson, Mississippi; photo Trip Burns, Jackson Free Press.
Organizations are working to raise awareness for and provide access to safe-drinking water in the US. However, significant investment in infrastructure is needed. The recently-reintroduced Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act of 2019 could give a financial boost. Among some of the things the bill sets out to accomplish: tens of billions a year for drinking water and wastewater improvements; 1 million jobs; prioritize disadvantaged communities with grants and additional support; and expand funding for technical assistance to small, rural, and indigenous communities. More details are here.
On this World Water Day, think about the value of water and being able to drink, wash, and flush. Now think about losing your hair because of the water you drink. Or having a sick child, because of the water they drink. Go inform yourself about water problems in the US, potential solutions, and help raise awareness.